September 24, 2007 | Insatiable Critic



Shooting for Stars at Fiamma

 Chef Fabio Trabocchi perfects his inspirations from tradition. Photo: Steven Richter.
Chef Fabio Trabocchi perfects his inspirations from tradition. Photo: Steven Richter.


         Snatched from his “five diamond” (AAA) cocoon at the Ritz Carlton in Tyson’s Corners, new chef-Partner Fabio Trabocchi delivers complex dazzle at Steven Hanson’s Fiamma.* Movie star handsome in gunpowder grey tunic, he reinterprets Italian classics, sights set high above the honky-tonk of Spring Street.


         A roly-poly tumbler of tomato water paired with tuna tartare wrapped-and-tied in a sorrel leaf on bacalao deliciously heralds the fancy stuff to come. Complex? I would say so. And delicious.  Dover sole comes as a truly taste-stirring layering of red pepper, olives, lemon zest and the flesh of the lemon itself with powerful sprigs of tarragon and baby basil. Voluptuous borata arrives accessorized with tomato, three ways, arranged like jewels. Agnolotti of red wine braised oxtail and foie gras tossed with chunks of sweetbread and celery root arrives in an intense brodo.

Sole is wreathed in a mosiac of flavors in an assymetric bowl.                  Photo: Steven Richter.


         You might have thought Hanson, having picked up $158 million just months ago selling half of BRGuest might have flown off in a private jet to buy an island in Hawaii.  Not this driven entrepreneur.  When Michael White, the chef who brought three stars into Hanson’s two-star life, decamped from Fiamma, it was clear he was ready to top his own act.


         Thus you find the chef’s adventurous hire wire act is backed by sommelier Anyi Zawieja lured from Robuchon, a $400,000 rehab, a fortune in tricky cutlery and the latest tabletop (silly and a little less silly), including a sumptuous china bowl that looks like something rich people buy to feed their cats, as my niece observes.  The dining crew has borrowed the giant tray delivery technique that first wowed us long ago at Alain Ducasse’s Louis XV in Monaco. (A style Danny Meyer pays homage to at The Modern.) With a little more practice they’ll get their exits as snappy as their entrances.


         Impressed as I am, even thrilled by a chef with obvious gifts, I have to admit so much intricacy is not my favorite way to eat. And at times too intense sauces sabotage an otherwise brilliant notion as in veal two ways with silken potato puree, hazelnuts tuile and a classic gremolada, or the nuggety swamp below roasted turbot with cipolini, house made pancetta and summer savory showily draped in thinnest slices of raw ovoli mushroom.


         But I remind myself that my one dinner came the evening before opening.  Every day since Trabocchi has been adjusting, tweaking the details.  I can’t wait to see where his taste and intelligence take him.


           P.S.  I’ve not been back to Fiamma myself since a very early tasting but thought you would want to know that after winning critical acclaim and countless stars, prices soared. When Frank Bruni cried ouch in Wednesday’s Dining Out section of the Times (March 12), chef Traboochi and Hanson adjusted the new tariffs. They dropped the three-course prix fixe to $85 from $92, the five course menu to $105 from $120 and the seven-course tasting to $125 from $138. 


 206 Spring St. near Sixth Ave. 212 853 0100. *Fiamma closed in January 2009.